Judge orders more information in Hells Angels' forfeiture case
In what could be viewed as a partial victory for the Hells Angels, a judge has ordered the disclosure of more information in a government forfeiture action against the biker gang.
Justice Barry Davies of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the provincial director of civil forfeiture should release further particulars in his bid to confiscate two of the bikers’ clubhouses.
In November 2012, the government applied to confiscate the East End Hells Angels clubhouse on East Georgia Street in Vancouver and another one run by the Kelowna Hells Angels.
Davies related in his decision, dated August 11, 2014, that the provincial director of forfeiture alleged that the properties were “instruments of unlawful activity”. The province also claimed that the clubhouses were “proceeds of unlawful activity”.
Lawyer Joseph Arvay, counsel for some of the defendants in the forfeiture case, had sought, in part, the release of more specific details.
In the notice of claim, the forfeiture director alleged that the Vancouver and Kelowna clubhouses were used in the “production of, possession of, importing/exporting of and/or trafficking in controlled substances, including, but not limited to cocaine, marihuana, [and] methamphetamine”.
The government also alleged that the properties were used for other “unlawful activities”, including “committing assaults”.
According to the judge, the forfeiture office’s responses to particulars sought on these “fail to identify with sufficient particularity those unlawful acts upon which the Director relies in seeking the forfeiture of the Clubhouses as having been allegedly used to engage in that unlawful activity”.
Davies underscored the need for more details by citing a previous ruling he had rendered on another pending Hells Angels forfeiture case, which involves a clubhouse in Nanaimo.
“While I agree that the Civil Forfeiture Act allows forfeiture even when no person is charged or convicted of an alleged unlawful act, that does not relieve the Director of the obligation to prove that the unlawful act was committed by one or more of the defendants named and that the property of which forfeiture is sought was used in committing that unlawful act,” the judge explained in his Nanaimo decision.
In its application to seize the Vancouver and Kelowna clubhouses, the government had also alleged other unlawful activities in connection with the use of these properties.
These alleged offences include extortion, uttering threats, manslaughter or murder, and illegal possession of firearms.
Quoting from his earlier decision regarding the Nanaimo case, Davies wrote: “While the burden upon the Director and the standard of proving those material facts on a balance of probabilities under the Civil Forfeiture Act is not that of the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that lower standard of proof does not eliminate the need to plead and then prove the essential elements of an alleged unlawful act upon which the Director relies in seeking the forfeiture of the property allegedly used to engage in that unlawful activity.”
In his August 11 decision, Davies also ruled that not all details sought by the defendants are necessary.
In its notice of claim, the government stated that the Hells Angels are affiliated with other motorcycle clubs, which “have similar purposes to its own”. The province also alleged that members of the Hells Angels in Vancouver and Kelowna have business with one another that includes both legitimate as well as illegal enterprises.
In ruling against the defendants’ demand for particulars on these, Davies concluded that information sought is “not necessary for the defendants to know”.
Davies also rendered a separate decision dated August 11, 2014, in connection with the government’s application to seize the Vancouver and Kelowna clubhouses.
This ruling pertains to the forfeiture director’s application for particulars on the defendants represented by Arvay, who have entered appearances in the litigation.
The director wanted to know the nature and extent of the interest in the properties among those who are not registered owners. However, the judge determined that the information sought by the government “need not be provided”.
Davies wrote: “They are inappropriately comprised of matters involving complex matters of mixed law and fact and are not necessary to delineate the issues to be brought before the Court.”